by Dn. Gabreil T. Alemayehu
Sermon given on January 7th 2011 at the Young Preachers’ Festival held at the Seelback Hilton Hotel in Louisville, KY.
We all seek rest. Many of us spend thousands of dollars on vacations in pursuing rest. We not only seek rest, but also need rest. By our very nature, we get weary and seek a time of relaxation. Humans need rest, for it is not good for us not to rest. Understanding this basic human need, the Lord bestowed upon humanity a day for rest, as He also rested after all His works. We even learn from Christ that the
“Sabbath was made for humankind” (Mark 2:27).
For humankind God provided rest, or as the Jewish Midrash explains it:
“On the seventh day, God created rest.”
Not only do we need rest, but we are also commanded by the Lord to rest. To “rest” is the fourth commandment out of the ten. The Ten Commandments are usually seen as divided between directives dealing with an individual’s relationship with God, and those governing relations with another person. For instance, “you shall have no other gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3) the first commandment, deals solely with one’s relationship with God, while the commandment not to steal (Exodus 20:15), the eighth commandment, deals exclusively with one’s relation with another individual.
Yet the commandment “to rest” benefits neither God nor my neighbor. The decree is given for the glory of God, but no one profits more than the observer of the commandment. In that respect, the fourth commandment is exclusive. The Sabbath day, the day of rest, was special to the Lord before its appearance as a mandate in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. This inimitable day has existed as a sacred day since creation. As the writer of Genesis describes, God had
“blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation” (Gen 2:2-3).
Today, in our busy 24/7 lives, we not only neglect the rest the Lord has given us, but also disobey one of His commandments! With our outlandish school, work, and social schedules, we never seem to find a second to take a break. In pursuing the best grades, promotions, and “friend” requests we have forgotten to pause for a moment and discover the rest the Lord has given us.
In the Hebrew Bible, we find several instances where God gave people physical rest. For example, He gave rest to the people of Israel while they were in the desert. He gave them manna to eat. But under one condition: they had to harvest the manna in order to consume it. This required physical work, and since the Lord wanted them to rest physically on the seventh day, He ordered them to gather two days’ worth of manna on the sixth day and to rest on the seventh day. Every seventh day, the Lord gave the people of Israel a chance to rest physically.
Even though they were able to get physical rest, the descendants of Jacob were still restless. Their hearts were restless! The sin that existed in the world, which separated human beings from God, had kept their souls distressed. As the fourth-century African theologian Augustine put it,
“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Confessions, Book I).
The Sabbath, which had only been able to give humans physical rest, was fulfilled by Christ, so that it could give humans spiritual rest as well. Christ had stated that He
“didn’t come to abolish but to fulfill” the Law.
What had been incomplete became complete in Christ. Christ gave our restive souls true and complete rest. He even told
“all that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens”
to come to Him so that He could give them rest (Matthew 11:28).
To all rest-seekers Christ says,
“Come to me.”
If we want rest, all we have to do is go to Christ. If we seek rest, we are asked to do something: we are asked to come to Christ. We have to break away from our hectic life schedules, pause, and experience God’s presence. As stated in Scripture we must
“be still” (Ps 46:10)
and know that He is God! Coming to the Lord for rest requires the rest-seeker to do four things.
We must first open our mouths to get fed. Our hungry souls need nourishment in order to rest. Our souls are hungry for the word of God. For our hungry souls, Scripture is our food. St. Gregory the Great explains that
“the word of God is the bread of the angels, which feeds the soul that is hungry for God.”
The word of the Lord brings good news to the restless soul. The Good News assures us, gives us hope, and gives us rest. It is only through the word of God that we know
“that all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).
It is only through the word of God that we know that we are no longer slaves of sin but
“children of God” (John 1:12).
And it is only through the Word of God that we know that we are destined to live in mansions rather than in a lake of fire.
The second thing we must do is stop working. This is not to say that we must quit our jobs. Rather, by pausing from working, we allow God to work. We must stop working so that God can work. When we are passive, God can become active in our lives! By not doing, we not only allow God to work, but also remind ourselves that we are not the ones in charge.
Third, we must empty ourselves. I once heard a story of a monk who was filled with great wisdom. One anxious student traveled to the monk’s house in order to inquire about complex philosophical questions. As soon as the student arrived, he started asking his questions. But this wise monk, did not reply back. When the monk noticed the student’s frustration, he asked the student to pour tea for both of them and not to stop pouring until he told him to. As the student poured and the cup spilled over, the monk said nothing. The student, confused, exclaimed that the cup was overfilling, and to this the monk replied,
“So are you!”
In the same way, we are filled with sin and worries of the world, so we must first empty ourselves. Only then can we be filled with the Spirit of the Lord. Once we empty ourselves and are filled with the Spirit of the Lord, we must be silent.
As we stop talking, we can finally hear God. We cannot both speak at the same time. It is only in this moment of silence that we are able to discern the plans of rest the Lord has for us.
We need time to stop, “be still,” and empty ourselves so that we can feel God’s presence. To rest in the Lord, we must first go to Him, as He has told us. Then we can finally rest in the Lord. In going to the Lord, we must be still and know that He is God. When we experience His presence, then we can rest. Then we can relax in the Lord’s house. Then, as the
Psalmist David said, we too can say,
“my soul finds rest in God” (Psalm 62:1).
In 1896 Italian forces invaded Ethiopia in order to write the last chapter in European colonization. Until that time, European powers had divided Africa and there was only one African nation left uncolonized. The Italians came into Ethiopia with advanced weapons and tactical devices. What the Italians had brought with them was foreign to the Ethiopians. Even though the Ethiopians were the underdogs, they didn’t lose hope of victory.
They first stopped talking. As the Ethiopian Eunuch had stopped talking and listened to Philip tell him about the silent sheep that was led to the slaughter, the Ethiopians also stopped talking and let the Lord speak to them. Then they discarded all the preconceived ideas others had for them, and recognized who they truly were: children of God. The Ethiopians had realized that they could not change who they were. They could not even change the color of their skin. The prophet Jeremiah had asked in his writing,
“Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin” (Jeremiah 13:23).
Understanding their unalterable identity, the Ethiopians casted-off the plans others had for them, so that they could have the Lord’s plan instead. Then the Ethiopians stopped working so God could work. They knew that they could not endure a battle with the European superpower they were facing. But they also knew that anything is possible with the Lord. The Ethiopians stretched out their hands and gave up their powers, so that the Lord could enact His plan. As David had written, Ethiopia had finally stretched
“her hands to God” (Psalm 68:1).
Finally, the Ethiopians turned to the Word of God so that their hungry and restless souls could finally rest. When the Ethiopians went into the battle, they didn’t take battle plans with them. Rather they took the word of God! Priests went out into the battle carrying on their heads replicas of the tablets on which the Ten Commandments are written. The Ethiopians did not need battle tactics; all they needed was the Word of the Lord.
By going to the Lord, the Ethiopians were able to rest. They were not going to be enslaved, nor were they going to fight another battle. The Lord gave rest to the Ethiopians by destroying the idea that Africans were lesser humans. They could now rest, both physically and spiritually. They now knew that the Lord had not forgotten His children in Africa. The Ethiopians were finally able to finally rest spiritually because they now knew that they were not destined to be slaves, but rather children of God! Knowing that Africans were equal to anyone else gave them peace. By going to the Lord, they were able to shatter the myth of a elite race.
The rest that the Lord had given to the crying Ethiopians, not only gave rest to them, but to all Africans. By being still, the Ethiopians rested in the Lord. By being still, the Ethiopians allowed God to write the last chapter in European colonization.
Christ makes our rest complete by giving us spiritual rest as well as physical rest. It is in Christ that we can get complete and true rest. By fulfilling the Law, He has made the Law whole, which means physical and spiritual rest for all His followers. In contrast to the rest we get from God, the vacations that we take today give us momentary and ultimately unsatisfying rest. After spending thousands of dollars, and valuable days off from work, vacationers come back to bills and more work. This is not rest! Rest that equals more stress is not rest! Yet the rest we find in the Lord is free and eternal. It costs nothing except faith. Regarding the rest
Christ has promised to give us, He tells us that the
“yoke is easy” and the “burden is light” (Matthew 11:28).
Brothers and sisters, let us not forget the Lord’s commandment to rest. Let us not miss the divine rest the Lord has given us. Let us go to the Lord for the great treasure that is filled with complete and true rest.
Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!